Egypt allows hundreds of Gaza pilgrims to embark on Hajj
Published Thursday 03/10/2013 (updated) 06/10/2013 13:53
EL-ARISH, Egypt (Ma'an) -- Egyptian authorities on Thursday allowed around 783 Palestinian pilgrims from Gaza to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing at 9 a.m. to allow three groups to cross into Egypt. The first group contained 266 Hajj pilgrims, the second included 258 and the third 259 Hajj pilgrims, Egyptian officials said.
The Egyptian director of the Rafah terminal, Sami Mitwali, told Ma'an that Egyptian authorities planned to allow 841 pilgrims to pass on Friday. Egyptian authorities will also allow 517 Hajj pilgrims to travel on Saturday, the last day for Hajj pilgrims to embark on the journey to Saudi Arabia.
Mitwali added that Egyptian authorities would allow trucks carrying Qatari construction materials to enter Gaza concurrently with the passage of Hajj pilgrims.
The decision comes after Egyptian authorities on Wednesday forced over 100 Palestinian pilgrims to return to Gaza after having entered the country to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj pilgrimage.
Also on Thursday, the first large group of Palestinian Hajj pilgrims from the Gaza Strip arrived at Jedda International Airport in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, according to the media director at the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, Mohammad Nawahda.
Assistant Undersecretary for Hajj and Umrah affairs, Hossam Abu al-Rub, told Ma'an that he expected a total of around 6,000 Hajj pilgrims from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to perform Hajj pilgrimage this year.
At a news conference on Thursday in Mecca, Palestinian Authority Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash complained that "all Palestinian Hajj pilgrims from the West Bank have arrived in Medina, while the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip is still withholding passports of administrative, medical, and media teams as well as hajj guides who were supposed to accompany Gaza pilgrims."
He confirmed that the first planeload of Gaza pilgrims was not accompanied by any administrative officers, guides or doctors. "It is unbelievable that people arrive to for Hajj without a guide to teach them about pilgrimage rites. Hamas is the only obstacle to the Hajj season," al-Habbash added.
Muslims consider taking the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime to be a fundamental tenet of their religion.